Harvey Weinstein allegations: It's all about power, not sex

NYT: Weinstein accused of sexual harassment
NYT: Weinstein accused of sexual harassment

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Story highlights

  • Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is accused of sexually harassing many women in an industry where he holds great sway
  • Michelle Threadgould: His lame excuse: that he came of age in the 60s and 70s. That thinking has huge consequences for women; he doesn't get a pass

Michelle Threadgould is a journalist covering politics, social justice, Latinx issues and arts and culture. Her work has appeared in Pacific Standard, KQED, GOOD, Remezcla and Racked. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)At what point in time was it ever appropriate to use your power over someone else to make them squirm? What circumstance justifies a company knowing about a pile of sexual harassment allegations against the same person, and not firing him?

Michelle Threadgould
I thought of this Thursday when the allegations against Harvey Weinstein broke. A story in the New York Times laid out accusations against the Hollywood producer of decades of harassment of women -- in an industry in which he has long held considerable power to make and break careers.
In a statement to the Times, responding to the story, he wrote: "I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then." (He added: "I have since learned it's not an excuse, in the office -- or out of it. To anyone.")
    His logic is apparently that the culture "then" was one that didn't punish men who hurt, humiliated, and harassed women. So how could he have been expected to behave differently? Lisa Bloom, a lawyer advising him, told the Times he was "an old dinosaur learning new ways."
    And on Friday, Bloom went on "Good Morning America," doubling-down on the idea that Weinstein didn't know any better -- a half-baked apology that does not work. That a revered feminist like Bloom, who has defended victims of sexual harassment in the past, would give someone like Weinstein cover now is a real slap in the face to the women who suffered in the 60s and 70s and who fought for women's rights before her.
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    This "excusing" mentality can, too often, be found in our friends, family, or other people who are known for their integrity, as they try to rationalize the type of behavior Weinstein is accused of -- even as they, and other women they respect, are its victims in myriad ways throughout the workplace and the larger culture.
    And if the harasser accused of these crimes is talented, or has a legacy -- or a political leaning -- we otherwise respect, then there are millions who will say something like, "I still love his art," or "he came from a different time."
    A man is not born abusing power. He chooses to. Just as too many of us choose to give people with the right career, the right background, and the right politics a pass.
    Just because you are a "champion of liberal causes," this does not make you a good person. And just because you hire women or donate to their campaigns you don't get a halo.
    In the 60s and 70s, sexual harassment was not "more right." It was more prevalent because it was silenced.
    And because it was, women -- like me, and so many others -- in 2017, can summon personal account after personal account of abuses in the workplace and beyond.
    When I was 21, back in the aughts, for example, I interned at a magazine where I sat next to an editor who awkwardly stared at me. A coworker with whom I would often exchange funny chat messages sent me a message that the editor had a crush on me.
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    Yeah right, I hope not, I replied.
    Then my coworker copied and pasted a chat message in which the editor had written in graphic detail what he wanted to do to me sexually.
    I left my desk, wishing I had my jacket so there was no part of my skin exposed, no part of me for the editor to watch. I went to the women's restroom to get away from him: why does this keep happening?
    Across industries, the silence is being broken. We've seen women in tech, music, finance, and now in film speak out. And with each story, there are millions who share the anger and shame of experiencing something that they knew was wrong, but felt powerless to change. When they do speak out, other women -- and especially men, and especially policymakers -- must have their back, not excuse them for their "dinosaur" thinking.
    Yesterday, journalist Anne T. Donahue asked on Twitter, "When did you meet YOUR Harvey Weinstein?" Hundreds of women responded, not because these women had met a brilliant producer, but because the name is symbolic of something bigger than his talent: the allegations of actions.
    There will be a day when that question no longer exists and we don't have to ask ourselves: why does this keep happening?